What has been particularly harmful about American Christianity has not necessarily been the beliefs professed by American Christians but rather the worldview that makes professions of belief more real than living them out. Within this schism of reality exists classic American dualism.
With just a reference to our nation’s fondness for war, our crime statistics, our rising poverty rates and an apparent increasing lack of concern for the most disenfranchised of society, we simply do not measure up to the life and teachings of a founder who loved his enemies, even to the point of his own death. As a nation, built upon genocide, slavery and patriarchy we have had little resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible. Perhaps we should be more honest and cease from invoking the name of Christ and references to Christianity as a unwritten standard in our national dialogues. As a church, we need to change the influence of a twisted worldview that has become our own. We can make these changes but not without a deep and critically honest review.
The kinds of dualisms, (there are several), primarily found among American Christians has deep roots in ancient societies, (particularly Greece) but was born on our shores directly out of the European Enlightenment. Under the influence of European philosophers American Christianity began understanding metaphysical reality (spiritual) and physical reality in false categories instead of as all one reality. When these two realities are separated, they often become dualistic in nature, separating two concepts or ideas from their one whole reality.
For example, in an American Enlightenment bound worldview, human beings can be categorized apart from and somewhat unrelated to the surrounding creation. In modern Christianity one’s place on the earth has nothing to do with their spiritual existence. The result is a false dichotomy between the physical earth and spiritual beings. In a more biblically influenced Christian worldview, human beings are fully physical (along with their spirituality) and the earth is fully spiritual (along with its physicality). All of creation is sacred and there is a problem with worldview, not truth when one is considered sacred and not the other or when one has hierarchy over the other. Jesus’ worldview seemed to indicate he understood both as sacred: “…do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool…” Matthew 5:34-35a
The word “salvation” in the Scriptures is often better translated as “healing” therefore, by definition, salvation should always consider a wholistic view including: the healing of people; the healing of our history (i.e., colonialism/neo-colonialism); the healing of others (individual, ethnicity, race, tribe, class, etc.); the healing of our planet, and all the rest of creation. When salvation is only concerned about “the soul” (based upon a dualistic worldview that elevates the soul over the corporeal) it profanes the whole mission of Christ to the world.
Howard Snyder, in his new book Salvation Means Creation Healed with Joel Scandrett, lists several other examples of our theological thinking based upon dualism.
- See no spiritual significance in material things;
- View life on earth as something unreal or of little importance;
- View physical death as the end of our earthly life;
- Think that beauty in this life (nature, people, art, music) is ultimately unimportant, except as it points to spiritual beauty;
- See this present world as evil or totally under Satan’s control;
- Overlook the biblical mandate for creation stewardship;
- See spirit and matter as two opposites and irreconcilable categories. p.4
As American followers of Christ, we have been brainwashed into a faulty worldview based upon old dualisms. We can change. For the next several posts I will continue to pursue some of the malignant tumors of dualism that have embedded themselves in the everyday theologies of many American Christians. I believe that most of our acute theological differences fueling the fires of dissinsion today, can be traced back to our dualism. I know, as followers of Christ, we can do better.